Derek Wolfe: 7
Derek isn't a sexy pass-rushing force of nature on the edge. That being said, he's a relentless force in his own right at strong-side defensive end. He's superb against the run and is able to move the pocket in pass rush situations. He plays a ton of snaps and isn't a guy I ever worry about getting his job done. In the 3-4, you couldn't really ask for a better LDE.
Malik Jackson: 9
Malik is kind of the flip-side of Wolfe in that he has some really good pass-rushing skills, but they diminish some as his snap count goes up. The key with Jackson has constantly been keeping him fresh so he can better impact plays. He's also very solid against the run and should be a real weapon in the tool belt of Wade Phillips this season. The interesting thing I'm looking for this year will be whether his role expands or is he going to keep being a ~50% snap count guy for our D-Line rotation?
Antonio Smith: 7
Some people really weren't a fan of this signing, but I appreciate it for what it is - depth for a key part of our defense. When you sign a guy like Smith, he's going to get you through the short term until you find a long-term solution. If Jackson can't handle more snaps, Smith will be his main rotation partner. The cool thing is that Smith is also a guy who can get after the passer. Phillips may also be using him as a nickel rush specialist from time to time, especially since his rush repertoire is a bit larger than Jackson's.
Vance Walker: 6
Walker is a guy who is a depth signing for the line. He plays like Wolfe but more bulk and less motor. I thought he was pretty decent a couple years back, and he got out-played on KC last year. The questions here are does he want it bad enough and will the coaches be able to get him to take a step forward and find a role? I foresee him being our depth behind Wolfe primarily.
Kenny Anunike: 5
Here's another story of a guy who flashes against the scrubs but doesn't break the bubble into the starting lineup. He seems to have some pass rushing ability from what I've seen but not at the level needed to be a full-time starter in the NFL. I can see this guy getting coached up over the next year or two and being a name we all know.
Overall Grade: 7
I like what we have here overall. We don't "need" another DE as there is depth here and talent, but as you look toward the future, you probably need one since there are contracts coming up next year here.
Marvin Austin Jr.: 7
I'm a big fan of Austin's from what I saw before last season. He holds the middle. He plays with solid technique. He gets good push from time to time. His downside is the injury history, but if he can stay healthy (and he has a great chance of that with our excellent training staff), then he will be the starter all year long. No contest.
Sylvester Williams: 4
Sly was honestly a disappointment last year. We had Terrance Knighton on a low number of snaps (for a "starter") and there was huge opportunity for the young fella to make a name for himself. He actually, to my eyes, did the opposite. He looked completely normal in his work last year, and as you can tell by my grade here, looks like a below-average NFL player. Do I hope that he can turn it around? Of course. But he's looking to me like a backup / rotational NT this year and not the answer that we're looking for long term in our new fancy 3-4 defense.
Overall Grade: 5
We need depth here in some form or fashion. The benefit of the Phillips 3-4 is that you can use a depth DE for NT in a pinch since they 1-gap. I don't know if we can find a legit NT prospect in the draft, but we should definitely be looking.
Brandon Marshall: 8
I think the world of the product that B. Marsh put on the field for the orange and blue last year. He was a truly joyful surprise. He covered well. He attacked the runner downhill superbly. He really looks pretty decent in read / react when he's asked to play zone. I really hope his injury heals quickly because he could be a big name in this defense.
Danny Trevathan: 7
Here's another guy who I like on game day just as much as Brandon Marshall. The problem here is the three injuries in one year. I hope he'll stay healthy, but I don't expect it, unfortunately. Danny T is one of the better linebackers I've seen in pass coverage. He doesn't match up well with bigger TEs, but who does at the linebacker spot today? He also has really great closing speed once the ball comes out. Honestly, every NFL team would want Danny T on its squad if he's healthy.
Reggie Walker: 6
Walker has been a solid backup during his six-year career. I don't see that changing here. He's depth at LB for us and has a small chance to break through his ceiling and be an impact player. I can say that he doesn't appear to have big weaknesses. If he needs to come in to play, he will take care of his job well enough. In a Wade Phillips defense, you can work with that.
Lamin Barrow: 5
I thought Barrow looked good last preseason. He had some mental lapses and that's the key to look for this year as we get into training camp. Mostly, he played aggressive and hit hard. I think he'll hold down a backup spot this year as he continues to develop.
Todd Davis: 5
I really liked Todd Davis in spots at the end of last season. Of all the middling grades I'm handing out for the ILB group, this is the one I'm most shaky on. I think if he can trim down a little and train up a bit in read / reaction time, he could be a starter for us. That being said, he wasn't superb in pass coverage and that is the biggest area that he'll need to improve on in order to be a game-day regular.
Steven Johnson: 3
I love me some KU alumni. But I though Johnson really took a step back last year. He's made good plays for us over the year, but he's not consistent enough, lacks some speed, and can't appear to beat out the competition so we can see more. I really think we'll probably enter the 2015 season without Steven on the squad.
Corey Nelson: 4
I don't have a solid idea on Nelson. He saw action last year in spots. I didn't notice him botching it up in the 10% of the snaps he took for us on defense, but I also didn't notice him making splash plays. He did play consistently on special teams and that's probably his ceiling this year because when I look at the group, I don't see him hopping over enough guys to be one of the impact LBs on the team.
Overall Grade: 6
I like some of the players we have here, but the big problem I see is that two of them are returning off injury problems. Also worth noting is that both of those players are our most talented guys for ILB on the team. We need some new blood at ILB in this draft.
Starting LOLB Von Miller: 10
There isn't an OLB in the NFL today I'd rather have on my team than Von Miller. He's a force of nature and a true cornerstone of our defense. I love that I can tell he is continuing to work on all aspects of LB skills. I do understand the want to keep him rushing the passer, but I honestly think with Wade Phillips calling the shots, we'd benefit more from Miller being a joker.
Starting ROLB DeMarcus Ware: 7
Ware started last season really strong but wore down as the season progressed in a big way. He had way too many snaps in my opinion, and that mismanagement really cost us some significant impact in the pass-rushing game. The cool thing this year is that Ware will be back at OLB where he is much more comfortable, and we'll hopefully provide more depth behind him so that he can rotate more and keep his legs fresh for when they are needed.
Lerentee McCray: 7
Here is a linebacker who really made the best of his limited action last year. He also didn't get on the field much, but when he did, he showed up. I would love to see him used to split snaps at ROLB with Ware this year.
Shaquil Barrett: 4
From what little I saw (which was almost nothing), Barrett is Just A Guy (JAG) at LB. He'll have to fight hard to make the team in all honesty.
Overall Grade: 8
I like the group we have here and would love to see us get another OLB for development. DeMarcus won't be with us after this year in all likelihood so if one is available, you go for it now and start getting the guy trained up to take over next year.
Chris Harris Jr.: 10
He's the most talented cornerback in the NFL. The only downside with CHJ is his size, but luckily we have Aqib Talib across from him to cover the bigger guys. Harris is everything you want out of a CB - speed, quickness, smarts, reaction time, fluid hip flipping and a great tackler. He plays any coverage spot in the secondary, including safety. That's one side of the formation covered (or the slot...or the other side...or the FS...you get the picture).
Aqib Talib: 9
At the other side we have another bona fide star player in Aqib Talib. He's a supremely talented press coverage player who has the size, speed and skills to match up with any No.1 WR. Unfortunately last year you got to see a lot of what happens when coaches put a round peg in a square hole. Talib was in off-coverage for the majority of his snaps last season, and while he was excellent in stretches, there were times where he was abused (see the playoff loss). Wade Phillips won't make the same mistake. Expect to see Talib doing what he does best and shutting down players.
Kayvon Webster: 7
I'm a big fan of Kayvon's. I love any cornerback who will lay the wood and Kayvon brings that to the table. He also looks good in coverage.
Bradley Roby: 8
Bradley Roby for all intents and purposes had a great year last year just based on his snap count alone. He was on the field a ton and got his trial by fire. He was honestly not playing at a high level yet, but he really did make some nice plays against really big competition. He looks to me like another CHJ who can do everything if Roby is willing to put the time, effort and heart into it. There was talk of him playing at free safety, which is an idea I like, but Roby said yesterday to the media that for now he is studying the defense as a corner. So I'm keeping him here until we see otherwise on the field.
Tony Carter: 7
Here's another guy who looks great in press man coverage (when he isn't getting flagged, which is a downside), but looks completely average when asked to play off or cover-3 outside. He's honestly a guy who could start on some of the worst teams in the NFL.
Overall Grade: 10
There is not a more talented group of corners in the NFL today. The creative side of me would love to see us trade away some of our depth for picks and draft some new blood this year though. We'll see if that pipe-dream happens though.
Starting FS Darian Stewart: 6
Don't get me wrong as I'm a fan of this signing. I just don't think the player I saw at the end of last year was same guy as what we had seen consistently before out of Stewart. I'm hoping he really just had things start clicking for him and that I'm wrong here, but for now I think he's a "good" option at safety (which is better than what we had last year honestly).
Starting SS T.J. Ward: 8
Here's yet another guy who I thought was mismanaged last year. We took Ward from Cleveland and somehow made him a worse player on a better defense. We had him playing linebacker a ton, and what I saw really made me think that was detracting from his ability to play safety properly. He rounded back into form late in the season when he was focusing on SS again. I expect him to have a powerful season this year (insert comment of proper use by Wade Phillips here).
David Bruton Jr.: 7
This is a guy I didn't think highly of last year, but he really changed my mind with his late-season performance for us. He was every bit a solid coverage safety in some of our late-season games and really looked like a guy who could be more than a Special Teams ace. There is that as well though: he always shows up in special teams!
Omar Bolden: 6
I liked what I saw from Bolden his rookie year. I didn't like much of his work at safety, though. I'm curious to see what he'll look like in training camp. He could be a sleeper player for us and could surprise everyone and win the free safety job.
Josh Bush: 5
Bush presented himself very well in last year's preseason. He was a playmaker and I would love to see what he can do against starters. He looked fast and read coverages well from what I saw in limited action last year.
Overall Grade: 7
We are a much better team at safety this year than we were at the same time last year. I'm not sold on our free safety situation, but it has been upgraded to average at least. There are some guys at free safety who I've seen drop in a lot of mocks in rounds three and four. I'd be ecstatic to see us pick one up if that happens in the real thing.
Connor Barth: 8
Connor's kicking was a breath of fresh air last year. He's consistent as hell and I love that in a kicker. The downside with him is his lack of power on kick-offs. We can't keep using 2 roster spots for the place kickers though and a solution needs to be found.
Brandon McManus: 2 / ?
McManus of course was the flip side of that story above: he has a HUGE leg, but he is wildly inconsistent with his field goals. I honestly would love to see him take over punting and kick-off duties as it would be the answer to our prayers in ST. He does have a history of punting at the collegiate level, so don't rule this out.
Britton Colquitt: 4
When I see the body of work from Britton last year and the year prior, I see a guy who got paid and is coasting. His performance level dropped a bit, and he really is JAG at punter. With his costly contract, I fully expect to see competition at punter this year and Elway to find a better option.
Aaron Brewer: 10
This is a spectacular player. He long snaps like no other.
Overall Grade: 5
There are too many problems with our current kicking group. I only want to keep Barth if we can find a punter/kickoff guy. I only want to keep McManus if he can either punt or gets consistent in kicking field goals. I don't want to keep Colquitt. I don't think we need to draft anyone, but we will probably bring in a punter after the draft to provide competition.